Controversy over Beer for Africa Campaign

The brewing giant South African Breweries (SAB) has launched a controversial campaign in  tandem with the Stop Hunger Now organisation.  The idea is to provide funds to help feed students across Africa who are going hungry.  The campaign is non-profit making and all proceeds are being donated to the charities involved.

However organisations are lining up to criticise the campaign calling it irresponsible and urging people to boycott it.  The problem is that the campaign focusses on the creation and selling of a “Beer for Africa” eight pack.  The pack consists of some eight different beers from across the African continent and is being sold in off licenses and liquor stores across Africa.

The idea of the campaign is to try and fund one million meals by the end of 2018 and to date there has been huge success.  So far the campaign has funded 200,000 meals within the first two months.    The initiative was driven by some worrying statistics – 40% of students in Africa are failing because of hunger and poor nutrition.  That is a startling statistic especially when  you consider these young people are the hope of the continent to progress.

There’s is little controversy over the aims of the project however many feel that using the sale of alcohol to promote the charity is wrong.    At a fundamental level it is using poverty to promote the sale of beer.  The charity South African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) summarises their objections – the campaign is basically saying ‘the more beer you buy, the more money we give to hungry students”.  This creates a link between buying alcohol and feeding poorer children, which many will also find morally wrong.

Africa has of course many problems but traditionally alcohol abuse has not featured largely in most areas.  In reality Africa is a fairly undeveloped market as far as the large alcohol manufacturers are concerned.    Whilst developed countries are increasingly pushing against alcohol consumption by updating health guidelines, policies and taxes – less developed countries become more attractive.

The alcohol industry sees affluent low and middle income countries with weaker legislation as a prime objective.   Many areas of Africa are a key focus for them to expand into new areas.  It goes without saying that this is likely to be bad for Africa, alcohol is a significant health risk factor.

For example places like sub-saharan Africa offer huge potential for promoting alcohol.  Many people don’t yet drink especially women, and there is a high youth population which offer large markets. Combine these with advertising costs, minimal regulation and the possibility of high intensity consumption make a tempting target for global brands.

Developed countries are well aware of the issues that alcohol can cause.  It is estimated that over 3 million people die from harmful use of alcohol every year.   This is despite the more advanced health care systems that developed countries have in place compared to most African nations.  In europe for example potentially life saving drugs like Selincro which you can read about here are prescribed to limit people’s alcohol consumption.  However the costs of such drugs are expensive and would be difficult to obtain in Africa.

Although the ideals of the SAB promotion are worthwhile, there is still a significant marketing aspect to the campaign.  Linking feeding the poor by buying alcohol is a dangerous precedent, one that certainly wouldn’t be allowed in most developed nations.  Does the end justify the means of this campaign, unfortunately many of those who are linked with alcohol charities and care don’t think so.

John Williams

http://cipec.org/